Friday, May 29, 2009

How to Sell by Clancy Martin

How to Sell is billed as a dark comedy type of book, and, yes, it is definitely dark, but I am not sure how funny it actually was. Bobby Clark is 16 years old and already on his way to a life of crime when he is expelled from school after stealing a case of class rings. Out of options, he decides to head south from his native Canada, and hook up with his older brother, Jim, who is working in the jewelry business in Texas.

Upon his arrival, Bobby is immediately hired on at the jewelry store where Jim is one of the top salesmen. He also meets Lisa, Jim's girlfriend, with whom he shortly begins a relationship as well. Not only does Bobby receive quite the education into the corrupt world of jewelry sales, he also picks up Jim's cocaine and Lisa's speed habits. Eventually, the store owner is arrested for his business habits, Lisa finds herself in some big mysterious trouble and drops out of both Jim's and Bobby's life. The story picks up several years later.

Bobby is now married with a daughter, yet he maintains a relationship with "the Polack," as she prefers to be called, a saleswoman at their shop. He and Jim have opened up their own jewelry shop, utilizing the same unethical tactics as their previous employers. One night, feeling restless, Bobby calls an escort whose number he received from Jim. When he reaches her, she informs him that she is out of the business, but has a friend who might be interested. Bobby is astonished to see that this friend is in fact Lisa. Despite the fact that she is currently working as a prostitute and has a very involved boyfriend, Bobby hopes to pick up where they left off years ago, with disastrous results.

I suppose one might consider Jim and Bobby's father a source of comic relief, if he also wasn't such a tragic figure. Long divorced from the boys' mother, he is a charming philanderer who floats from community to community starting churches and convincing people that he consults with "astral beings" and a woman named "Priscilla" who lives on a "parallel plane," whose guidance he takes quite seriously.

How to Sell is a quick read and well-written. The characters are rather shallow, but this adds to the overall story of their greed as a way of life. The American dream is alive and well in this story, where the characters sell not only jewelry, but themselves and each other. It is a bleak look at life in the fast lane, and one that will likely stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker

Truly Plaice knows what it is like to be an outsider - gargantuan since birth, in contrast to her lovely and petite older sister, she grew up on the fringes of society and family. Her mother died giving birth to her, something her father never recovered from, passing away when Truly was 12. While Serena Jane, Truly's sister was snapped up by the local minister and his wife, Truly was taken in by the Dyerson's, a poverty-stricken family who resided outside of town.

The girls grew up very differently. Serena Jane was doted on at school by Miss Sparrow, the town's teacher, while she barely tolerated Truly's presence. Serena Jane had all the lates fashions, her clothes neatly pressed, while Truly wore men's clothes because she could not fit into girls' or even women's clothing. Serena Jane was surrounded by her disciples wherever she went, while Truly had only 2 friends - Amelia, the Dyerson's quiet daughter and Marcus, who loved Truly despite what everyone else thought. Serena Jane was raised as a young lady, Truly helped out August Dyerson with the horses and learned how to throw races to her benefit.

As Truly enters adulthood, she leaves the Dyersons to move in with Serena Jane's husband, Robert Morgan, the town doctor, and her nephew Bobbie after Serena Jane abandons them. While Robert continues the cruel behavior he showed Truly as a child, she stays on due to her love of her nephew. Throughout it all, Truly continues to grow, which Robert gleefully points out to her during her checkups. While Truly tends to her nephew, she also discovers that a family heirloom quilt holds more than just traditional stitches - it is a record previously only rumored to exist - a guide to potions handed down from generation to generation of medicinal herbs and potions from the first Mrs. Robert Morgan, Tabitha. Truly begins experimenting with various mixtures on the sly.

This is a story of dichotomies - Truly vs. Serena Jane, pretty vs. ugly, love vs. hate, big vs. small, mercy vs. murder, forgiveness vs. revenge, etc. and how they may not be as opposite as we sometimes think. Through all of her trials, Truly remains true to herself - although she entertains and sometimes acts on her feelings of revenge, in the end, her compassion and love shine through. She endures the tragic loss of a friend as well as her sister but gains the everlasting love of her nephew and eventually, the respect of her small town. This is a heartwarming story of sorrow and joy, and Truly is "truly" larger than life.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

This book, and its sequel, Pigs in Heaven, are far and away my favorite Barbara Kingsolver books. They tell the story of Taylor Greer, a simple and straightforward young lady from Kentucky who strikes out on her own with an old junky car and what little money she has to find her way in the world. Heading west across the U.S., she winds up encountering a little more adventure than she bargained for.

On her way through Oklahoma, Taylor is basically handed a little girl - she is of Cherokee descent, pretty much catatonic, and the woman who gives her to Taylor insinuates that she will be far better of away from there. Taylor calls her "Turtle" due to the strong, clinging grip the girl has. As they make their way further west, it is evident that Turtle has not had an easy life, but Taylor provides her with the first stability she's known in quite some time. They make it as far as Tucson, where her car finally gives up. Luckily, one of the first people she meets is Mattie, the proprietor of the tire shop where she takes her car.

Mattie is a nurturing, yet tough woman who takes Taylor and Turtle under her wing, eventually giving Taylor a job at the shop. Taylor moves in with another single mother, Lou Ann, and together they forge a unique family unit, taking each day as it comes. Through Mattie, who seems to have lots of different people staying with her at various times, Taylor meets Estevan and Esperanza, a married couple on the run from Guatemala, to whom she grows quite close.

Following a close call with Turtle, a social worker becomes involved with Taylor and Turtle, discovering that Taylor has no legal rights to Turtle. She points Taylor in the right direction to have this amended, and Taylor and Turtle set off for Oklahoma, bringing Estevan and Esperanza, who are headed for a safe house in the same area. Will they make it safely? Will Turtle be returned to her biological family? You'll have to read it to find out....

This is a heartwarming, if implausible, story of fighting against the odds, love and friendship. Published in 1988, a new paperback edition has just been released for those of us who may have missed this one the first time around. Interestingly, immigration is one of the subjects tackled by Kingsolver in this book, something that is as timely today as it was in the 80's. Taylor will have you cheering, for her strength, her vulnerability, and her ability to love. This is a wonderful story of underdogs and their fight for life, and I also heartily recommend the sequel, Pigs in Heaven for those who would like to continue Taylor and Turtle's story.

One You May Have Missed...

Patty Jane's House of Curl by Lorna Landvik, first published in 1995, is a story of friendship, family and endurance. It is at times funny, heartbreaking, joyous and inspiring. The story details how an unlikely family of women stick together through thick or thin, triumphing over the obstacles that life throws at them with humor and perseverance.

Patty Jane Rolvaag, proprietor of Patty Jane's House of Curl, has made it through some tough times in her life. Growing up in an alcoholic household, being apparently abandoned by her husband shortly before the birth of their daughter, and watching her sister struggle with alcoholism herself all contribute to Patty Jane's determination to build a better life for her and her daughter.

Thor Rolvaag was considered by many to be the most handsome man in Minneapolis when he and Patty Jane were married in the summer of 1953. He laughed off Patty Jane's assertions that she had conceived on their wedding night, until it became obvious that she indeed was pregnant. Thor's fear of loving someone that much led him astray, seemingly never to return. Two days after his disappearance, Patty Jane delivered a healthy baby girl, Nora. Thor's mother, Ione, and Patty Jane's sister, Harriet, took over caring for things while Patty Jane recovered from the loss of her husband, forming a tight-knit family. Over the years, Harriet endures her own tragic loss, Patty Jane attends beauty school and opens up her own place - the House of Curl. The shop becomes a neighborhood gathering spot, and Patty Jane branches out to offer edifying and empowering programs to the local women.

In an incredible plot twist, after several years of being absent, Thor is located and returned home, having suffered irreversible brain damage which kept him from returning home on his own. Although everyone's circumstances have changed, Thor is welcomed back into the family - he is still legally married to Patty Jane, after all. In the end, the family endures yet another loss, yet Patty Jane and the others once again come together and celebrate all the life and love in their world. This one is a tearjerker!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Book Clubs

The Adult Book Club meets on the second Wednesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. in the Board Room. Members will discuss My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult on June 10, 2009. In My Sister’s Keeper, a child is conceived through in vitro fertilization to be a donor for her sister who has leukemia. When Anna is 13 she sues her parents for the right to make her own decisions about her body.

The Mystery Book Club meets on the third Wednesday of the month at 1:30 p.m. in Meeting Room B. On June 17, 2009, members will discuss Mercedes Coffin by New York Times bestselling author Faye Kellerman. From the Decker & Rita Lazarus series.

Stop by to pick up your copy at the Adult Services Reference Desk on the second floor.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead

This is a quiet, meandering autobiographical novel that takes place in Sag Harbor, New York, the African American answer to the Hampsteads. The main character is a 15 year old skinny and awkward young man, Benji, who, along with his younger brother, Reggie, pretty much have the run of their parent's summer home for much of the season.

During the school year, Benji attends an elite New York City prep school where very few of his fellow students are black, adding to his social unease. Needless to say, he looks forward to his summers in Sag Harbor, where he has a history, a sense of belonging and a group of close friends that he has spent every summer with for as long as he can remember. The boys encounter the usual coming of age issues: girls; summer job; and, jockeying for position within their group.

If you are looking for a book with lots of drama or plot, you may want to skip this one; the book saunters along quite like the summers of our youth. The references to pop culture (the novel takes place in the 1980's) are priceless to anyone who was also coming of age during this era. Whitehead's sense of place and time, as well as his lovely prose and keen observations made this an enjoyable, if slow, read.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Courtesan's Daughter by Claudia Dain

Lady Sophia Dalby is accustomed to having what she wants when she wants it - not many women possess the brains, beauty and good fortune to go from being a well-known courtesan to marrying a British lord. Now that her seventeen year old daughter, Caroline, is of age, Sophia knows it will take more than a little planning and good luck to find a suitable match for her daughter.

Caroline knows of her mother's past, and also recognizes that her mother is keenly intelligent, world-wise, and still a powerful force with men, all of which Caro wishes to emulate. When Sophia announces that she has arranged a husband for Caro, by purchasing the debts of a young man and insisting on his marrying Caro to pay them off, Caro rebels, refusing to marry someone who had essentially been bought. Instead, in a rash decision, she decides that she would like to be a courtesan like her mother was.

Needless to say, Lord Ashdon, Caro's intended, is quite insulted that Caro would choose becoming a courtesan rather than his wife, and he is quite determined to have her, one way or the other. Naturally, they are both immediately physically drawn to the other, and both fall into their roles just the way Sophia planned. Eventually Caro abandons her plan to become a courtesan, recognizing that Ashdon is the only man for her. Ashdon, for his part, cannot resist Caro's charms, ultimately resulting in their marriage. But is all happily ever after?

With all of its twists and turns, this book reminded me of the movie "Dangerous Liaisons," but without all of the evil undertones. Sophia is a strong woman character, definitely a force to be reckoned with, and Caro and Ash's passion for one another will make romance fans happy! There are numerous sub-plots going on that add to the overall story and cast of characters, and the witty dialogue keeps the story line moving. Fans of this book will want to read more of Lady Sophia in the remainder of the "Courtesan" series; or check out Claudia Dain's webpage at:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My Booky Wook by Russell Brand

Russell Brand might be most well-known in the U.S. for his breakout role as Aldous Snow, the rock star, in the movie "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," but in the U.K. his fame reaches a far wider audience. This comedian, actor, recovering addict and London Sun's "Shagger of the Year" has written an autobiography detailing his rise from working-class Essex to being one of the most flamboyant personalities in the entertainment field.

Putting it mildly, Russell has been a naughty boy his entire life. An only child of his parents' failed relationship, he grew up mostly around women, and his love and respect for his mother is one of his most endearing qualities. While he still maintained a relationship with his dad, that is also where Russell was exposed to some of the seedier sides of life, lessons which young Russell learned well.

Addictions, mental illness, self-mutilation and reckless sexual behavior are all present in this book, sometimes in gruesome detail. Brand is a talented writer and some descriptions of his predicaments are almost poetic. The book is written as he speaks - the cockney accent leaps out at you from the pages. As someone who was a fan prior to reading the book, it was difficult reading some of the situations he put himself into, but the fact that he has faced his demons and continues to come out on top is a testament to his personal strength. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan, or who enjoys reading a good contemporary biography.